There is some interesting research on the link between depressed dads and its effects on their children. This supports much of the posts I have written on the importance of father/child bond. The research is summarized by Child-Psych.org at http://bit.ly/mvo6nu: “The current study used a nationally representative sample of fathers of one year-olds, 1,746 dads in total.
The men answered questions in four different areas: interactive play (e.g., peek-a-boo), speech and language interactions, reading to the child, and spanking. Whether or not the fathers had talked with their child’s pediatrician during the past year was also assessed. Seven percent of the fathers in the study reported being depressed during the past year. Seventy-seven percent of these dads also had spoken with the pediatrician over the past year… there were no differences between fathers that were not depressed and those that were in their reports of playing interactive games and singing songs/nursery rhymes with their children. Depressed dads were less likely to read to their one year-olds and much more likely to spank them.”
Conclusions of this study focused on the relationship between a fathers well-being and the child emotional and academic abilities later in life. As you might expect, the higher the depression in dad, the lower the functioning of the child. In addition, there is a connection between how aggressive dads were in their discipline. A higher percentage of dads spanked or acted out of anger with their children. Why do I keep harping on this topic? I want dads to be aware of and accept how vital there role is in the life of their children. I want others (moms and society in general) to be more mindful of the need to educate and support dads in this role. As men, we don’t get the same amount of formal or informal training to be parents as moms. More focus is needed for men to rise to the challenge of parenting.
When parents are going through a divorce things can get heated very easily. The simplest things can become very complex when parents disagree on issues. Often the only recourse is to get a legal agreement that spells out how custody is shared. This will involve a mediator, frequently appointed by the courts, if parents can’t work it out between them.Parents often ask me how to help their children adjust to the transition between two homes. This is a difficult answer to give as circumstances vary depending on the age of the child, distance between homes, parents work schedules, living arrangements and special needs of the child. Here are some general ideas, gathered about the net, that might prove helpful. My best advice is that parents keep the child in mind first and foremost. What is in the best interest of the child?Emotional Preparations for Transitions (from http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/yf/famsci/fs638w.htm):• Hold young children and give them physical comfort, hugs and reassurance. Most young children naturally seek the comfort that comes from being held or hugged. Give children extra hugs, smiles and hand-holding. Set aside time to sit together, put your arm around them or hold them and talk about their feelings.• Give verbal reassurance to young children. Tell them often that you love them, that everything will work out and that you will not leave. Also, listen and allow them to share thoughts or feelings and help them realize that feeling scared or upset is OK and can be worked out.• Provide children with security through maintaining some consistent routines that are familiar to them (build on existing routines or establish new ones). This might mean consistent routines at lunch time, during an exchange or at bedtime. It might involve reading stories each night (whether with either parent), playing a game or having the same child-care provider. Keep a child’s routines as similar as possible, which helps build security.• Discuss upcoming changes or schedules before they occur and show young children in concrete ways what will happen. Make a calendar with X’s on days with mom and O’s on days with dad so they can see what will happen, or do a paper chain to show how many days until they see the other parent. Young children struggle more if they are uncertain of what will happen next.• Read books or watch shows that involve dealing with divorce or related issues together. Buy, check out or borrow books or movies that show children or families dealing with divorce and its effects (make sure they are age appropriate). Ask children what they think about the story or characters and how they respond. Compare your own situation.• Give young children tangible items to provide them security. Let them have a picture of the other parent in their bedroom, a stuffed animal they take with them between locations or other concrete items that help them. Young children need to have things of their own that they do not “lose” every time they go with another parent.Parenting Guidelines (from http://singleparents.about.com/od/successfulcoparenting/a/simoneau_2.htm):Don’t talk down about the child’s other parent, no matter how frustrated or angry you become. Talking down about a child’s parent is like talking down about part of your own child.Establish a special routine during transition periods. Perhaps play a game or serve a special meal each time your child returns. Kids thrive on routine and if they know exactly what to expect when they return to you it will make the transition easier.Allow your child to have a transition object. If your child needs a blanket or teddy bear, let them. If the child is older and maybe doesn’t want to carry an item that large, help them make one. Maybe pick out some rocks that represent each parent. Have fun designing them so they know which rock belongs to whom.Call your child every day. You would be surprised at how much hearing your voice and knowing that you are thinking about them means to them, even if they don’t say much in return.Be understanding of their missing things from their other home, including the other parent. All of those things are very real to your child and not having them when they want them can be very frustrating.Work with the other parent to establish a few basic routines that are at both houses. For example, at both houses bedtimes should be very similar. Sitting at the dinner table may be something to be encouraged at both houses. Television viewing or video game playing habits could be similar in both homes.Establish some routine for going back to the other parent’s house. Maybe develop a checklist. Did you remember your bear, your homework, your library book, your gym shoes etc? Make sure you do this each and every time so it becomes habit. Fewer things will be forgotten leading to less frustration and more responsibility.Develop firm procedures and rules about what is acceptable about forgetting things at the other parent’s house. Are you going to ground your child because he forgot his teddy bear? Will you be driving over to your ex’s house to get it at 9:00 at night because your 4 year-old just can’t sleep without it? Are you willing to let your child get a failing grade because your ex doesn’t follow a checklist and make sure your 5th grader had packed her month-long book report assignment? Make procedures and follow through.If it is possible, keep the communications open with your ex. You won’t always agree, but if you are at least communicating you both will always be in the know.If you are able to keep the communication lines open, make sure your kids know this. Have family meetings. Present yourselves as a united front even though you live apart. Back each other up. By doing this you will prevent your kids from trying to play you off each other.
Do you ever swat your child on the behind? Let’s hope not. Over the past fewdecades, numerous studies have concluded that spanking isn’t the best or mosteffective way to discipline a child successfully. But when your kidsmisbehave, don’t replace spanking with yelling. New research shows thatscreaming loudly at children may also harm them. So what can parents do whentheir kids become unruly, especially with the summer vacation months upon usand children spending more time at home?Read the full story on Live: http://live.psu.edu/story/53707#nw44
Listen in on Claudine Struck’s radio show as she interview fathering experts, like Ron Huxley, talking about the important connection between father and child. Ron is about 4 minutes into the video…Father and Child Connection
How many of the parents, reading this column, are perfect parents? None? Well, how many of the imperfect parents, reading this column, have perfect children? Still none? While it may be that perfect parents don’t need to read this column, I think the real truth is that there are no perfect parents or perfect children. If that is true, then why do so many parents act as if there is such a being as the “perfect parent” or “perfect child?”
To illustrate my point, try completing the following sentences. Just say the first thing that comes to mind:
A good parent always…
Good children should…
As a parent, I must…
My children ought to be more…
If I were more like my own parents, I would be more…
If a parent falls short of these standards, and so, is not a “good” parent, what does that leave the parent to be? Parents are left with the belief that he or she is a “bad” parent. These beliefs are responsible for why parents feel so out of control and powerless in their parenting roles. Parents need more realistic beliefs about parenting. Realistic Beliefs about Parenting Beliefs are expressions of parent’s values about themselves, other people, and the world. Unrealistic beliefs create a feeling of demand that pushes and drives parents unnecessarily where realistic beliefs create a feeling of inner stability, even when circumstances aren’t always stable.
One way to create more realistic beliefs is to evaluate the evidence for your unrealistic thoughts about parenting. Ask yourself these questions: What law states that a child will always listen and be respectful? What evidence really suggests that all parents must be available to their children at all times? What edict states that I must be perfect?
For one day, make a list of all the negative thoughts that come to mind as you go about your parenting duties. At the end of the day, look over the list and write out alternative, positive counter-thoughts. Whenever the negative thoughts come up, immediate state the alternative thought to break its power over you. If it is too hard to remember them all, pick one or two of the negative thoughts that create the most interference in your parenting and counter those only. Do that for about a week and then move down the list to the others. Changing what you say about your parenting will change how your feel about your parenting.
Try this experiment: complete the following incomplete sentences and notice the emotional difference between these and the first list.
A responsible parent always…
Good children sometimes…
As a parent, I can be…
I desire my children to be more…
If I were like my own parents, the positive qualities I would like to have…
Only one word was changed in each of these sentences and yet it dramatically changes how you think and feel. If you are going to accept the fact that you are imperfect then you will have to eliminate “perfection” language from your thoughts and words. You will need to accept the fact that you are acting “good-enough.” This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t strive for more out of yourselves or your child. Self-improvement is not the same as expecting perfection It takes courage to be a “good-enough” parent.
This is what the child psychiatrist, Rudolph Driekurs, calls “the courage to be imperfect.” While there are plenty of perfect parenting standards to fail short of, there are no rules for how to be an imperfect parent. Here are ten un-commandments for developing the “courage to be imperfect”:
1. Children should be encouraged, not expected, to seek perfection.
2. Accept who you are rather than try to be more than or as good as other parents.
3. Mistakes are aids to learning. Mistakes are not signs of failure. Anticipating or fearing mistakes will make us more vulnerable to failure.
4. Mistakes are unavoidable and are less important than what the parent does after he or she makes a mistake.
5. Set realistic standards for yourself and your child. Don’t try correcting or changing too many things at one time.
6. Develop a sense of your strengths and your weaknesses.
7. Mutual respect, between parent and child, starts by valuing yourself. Recognize your own dignity and worth before you try and show your child their dignity and worth.
8. Unhappy parents are frequently discouraged, competitive, unrealistic in their standard for themselves and their children, over ambitious, and unbalanced in their love and limits.
9. High standards and expectations are frequently related to parent’s feelings of inferiority and lack of adequate parenting resources.
10. Parents need to develop the courage to cope with the challenges of living, which means, they must develop the “courage to be imperfect.”
One of the most magical moments of my life was being at the birth of my child. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I remember watching him squirm and cry as he met the world. I remember how he paused to listen to my voice as I whispered my love for him and commitment to him. To this day, spending time with my kids continues to be one of my favorite activities. To not spend time with my children is unfathomable.
For many fathers, this isn’t the case. They sit in hospital waiting rooms, clapping each other on the back and congratulating one another on a job well done, while their child enters the world without their father next to them. The day after the delivery and every day after are filled with missed opportunities to bond with their child and influence the directions they will take in life. They rationalize that they are sacrificing for their family by working long hours and justify their emotional distance as modeling how to survive in the “cold, cruel world.” Food on the table and a roof over head is nice but nothing makes up for loving, nurturing relationships with one’s father. How do fathers build this bond? What barriers stand in the way? And, what are some practical tools to help fathers strengthen their children intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and physically?
To help me answer these questions, I asked for advice from dad’s who have a close bond with their children. How do I know they have a close bond? I asked their wives! How do you bond with your child? In response to this question, all of the fathers answered alike. They stated that the best way to bond was simply to spend time with a child. What you do is not as important as doing something.
They divided activities up into four main areas: Physical, Intellectual, Social, and Spiritual. A balance of these four areas would result in a child having a happier, healthier life.
Physical activities are the most familiar to fathers and include working around the house together, sharing a hobby, coaching an athletic team, exercising together, and going places together.
Intellectual activities focus on being involved in a child’s academics, participating in school related activities, encouraging hard work, and modeling yourself as a their primary teacher of life.
Social activities centered on talking with children, sharing feelings and thoughts, demonstrating appropriate affection and manners, and getting to know your child’s friends.
Spiritual activities are used the least by dad’s but have the most power to influence a child. These activities incorporate reading spiritual stories together, going to church or the synagogue, praying with children, establishing rules and order, being consistent and available, and exploring the mysteries of nature.
What is difference between the father/child bond and the mother/child bond? It was quickly apparent from the surveys that dad’s have a different approach or style to bonding than mom’s. Dad’s have a more rough and tumble approach to physical interaction or may spend time in more physical activities such as play or working on a project together. Competition was also seen more in father/child bonding and was considered healthy if used in small doses and with sensitivity to a child’s temperament and abilities. Sportsmanship but not necessary sports activities, was regarded as an essential ingredient in the development of a child’s characters. While the approach may differ, the need for bonding with mom and dad is equally significant. One dad joked that other than a couple of biological differences (e.g., giving birth or breastfeeding) he couldn’t see one as more important than the other.
What barriers prevent fathers from achieving a bond with their child? All of the fathers agreed that work and the mismanagement of time were the biggest robbers of relationships with children. No one discounted a father’s responsibility to provide for his family, but all of them maintained that a healthy balance is needed between work and family. They felt that society makes it easy to use one’s career as an escape. Social influences tend to value the bond a child has with mom to be more important than with dad. But none of the dad’s questioned felt this barrier to be insurmountable.
Eliminating barriers in society begins in the home. Dads must demonstrate that being involved in the home is important to them before society will start treating dads as important to the home. Dads need to take the initiative to change a diaper, clean up after dinner, give the kids their bath, and do the laundry. The collective effect of these “small” acts will ripple out into society to create “bigger” change. Can a father bond with a child if they did not have a father growing up? The entire group affirmed that not having a father would make it more difficult but not impossible to bond with a child. According to one dad, bonding is more of an innate need or spiritual drive than simply a learned behavior. Therefore, fatherless fathers are not doomed to repeat their own childhood experiences. Another dad suggested “getting excited” by the little things that make a child excited or happy. Getting down on the child’s level, regressing to those early moments in life when you were a child, and sharing simple pleasures with your child will foster the bonding missed the first time around. In summary, it is clear that the bond between a father and a child is an important one.
Barriers, such as social values and absent fathers make bonding with children difficult but not impossible. Children need the unique style of bonding that fathers can provide and fathers can build that bond by spending time engaging in physical, intellectual, social, and spiritual activities.